Friday, August 29, 2014
Something to think about....Ferguson and the cult of compliance
The protests in Ferguson, Missouri, set off by a policeman’s shooting of an unarmed black teen last week, appear to be spinning out of control — not because crowds are rioting nightly but because law enforcement is operating as though they are in a war zone. Peaceful protesters are facing nothing short of a domestic army, armed with military equipment, waiting for a provocation.
As the protests progressed, the police have used noncompliance, or the failure to obey their every order, as their justification for whatever violence came next. That’s also the excuse that the police used to explain why an officer shot Michael Brown. They said the incident started because Brown didn’t comply with an order to move, so it is he who is to blame.
What happens if you don’t comply when the police give you an order? What rights do you really have? How free are you, really, when the authorities have weapons pointed at you or when they have the right to draw a weapon and use it with relative impunity?
Over the past few years, I have been tracking the rhetoric that police and other authority figures use to justify all kinds of violence. In cases that seem very different, separated by factors such as age, race, gender, sexuality, geography, class and ability, police explain away their actions by citing noncompliance. They do it because it works. They do it because according to their beliefs, any sign of noncompliance is an invitation to strike.
To fight back, ordinary citizens need not only to push specific reforms but also to transform the culture of law enforcement.//
It’s a link that needs to be made. In the vast majority of cases, especially those involving young black and Latino men, police can punish someone for noncompliance with impunity, and because of deeply entrenched racism, little is done in the way of reform. But when someone is disabled or unwell, violent police action reveals itself as what it is: disproportionate, crude and uncalled for. It is therefore imperative to consider the two situations side by side and integrate them into a broader discussion about how the police treats people who, for whatever reason, do not comply with their every whim.//
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of similar examples in which noncompliance led to violence. Ersula Ore, a black woman in Arizona refused to hand over her ID and was flung to the ground. A drunk woman in Skokie, Illinois, didn’t look into the camera when being booked, so the police threw her onto a bench, breaking her face. They claimed she was resisting arrest.
Fixing the problems will involve working on racism in police departments across the country, enforcing bans on chokeholds, all kinds of better training and building a national mental health system focused on care rather than incarceration. Mandatory cameras are a good idea too. Let’s treat all these symptoms but keep our eye on the disease that’s causing them.
The public must stop blaming these events on bad cops or bad departments. Too many people are willing to accept that because being a cop is risky, they have to punch, shoot or tase at the slightest provocation. Such attitudes enable the cult of compliance.